“My dreams were bigger than my fears. I needed a dream like I needed food and water. That dream wasn’t just a goal, that dream was my way out – was my sort of salvation,” Viola explained when sharing the urgency she felt in the need to grow from her circumstances.
Viola Davis sat down with Oprah Winfrey at Oprah’s gorgeous Maui home for a virtual discussion about her phenomenal life’s journey, career and new memoir, Finding Me. “Something happened inside me when I read this book,” Oprah said. After reading the first paragraph Oprah was sold on wanting the book to be a part of the Oprah Book Club. She began calling around to ensure Finding Me would be on the list.
When asked about the creative purpose and push to share her story, Viola pointed to the pandemic stating that it exacerbated the feelings she already had looming within. Having hit professional heights, being celebrated one award after another, hitting a level of fame, Viola assumed a feeling of ‘arrival’ too would fall upon her. Let’s be real, Viola is the most celebrated Black actress in Oscar history! It’s understandable why anyone would expect that having accomplished so much would too lead to a feeling of overall acceptance and ‘arrival’, yet she was still seeking more.
When Viola’s career catapulted, she enjoyed feelings of excitement, however she too delt with feeling exhausted. She had to personally acknowledge that some of the people in her life were imposters, a feeling most of us have when we sit silently and truly evaluate the relationships and individuals we accept and keep in our lives. Viola dealt with people treating her as a commodity, and not the woman that she truly is. When Oprah asked Viola how she’s able to find her feeling of home, she explained that she had to strip to her core and return to the purest part of herself. “She [Viola] helps you define what it is that you would call home.”
Oprah described her own upbringing as having had very little resources and poor. After reading Viola’s memoir, Finding Me she made a distinct differentiation, stating that while she did grow up poor, Viola grew up ‘po’ – using the slang to add emphasis to the even more dire circumstances that Viola had. In an excerpt from chapter three (3) of Finding Me, Viola described her living conditions. “There were several fires, and the building soon became infested with rats. In fact the rats were so bad, they ate the faces off my dolls. I never, ever went into the kitchen. Rats had taken over the cabinets and the counter. The plaster was constantly falling off the wall, revealing the wooden boards holding the house together.”
Viola Davis was born on the plantation in South Carolina that her mother was raised on. She described her mother as maternal warrior, and her father as strict and violent – yet the first man to love her. She shared one incident in which she stood between her parents to protect her mother from the blow her father was preparing to land. Davis recalled her dad hitting her mother across the head with glass and the blood gushing from her mother’s head. It has been proven that a great deal of abusers were abused at some point in their life and have adapted violence as a coping mechanism for expression. The cycle continues until the true work is done to break it. Overtime, with therapy and understanding, Viola was able to forgive her father for his actions, understanding that he had left home at the age of fifteen (15) due to violence and abuse. With successful therapy the day comes when you realize your parents did the best they could for you with what they had (emotionally and physically). This realization brings forth the ability to forgive. Viola was honest about her road to forgiveness stating that it was not easy, and it is a conscious choice to forgive.
Viola credits the bond she has with her sisters as a source of strength. In chapter seven of Finding Me Viola said on sisterhood, “Some battles we won – survived together and emerged with laughter and perspective, and some brutal ones – sexual abuse – we lost. Sexual abuse back in the day didn’t have a name.”
During the special Viola’s eyes smiled when talking about some of her teachers. “Teachers were my saviors,” Davis said with a grateful gleam in her eyes. One in particular she recalled taught her how to properly clean her body and helped her understand hygiene. She too was grateful for the beautiful clothes the teacher would call her into the office to give to her. They were nicely taken care hand-me-downs from the teachers daughter. Viola grew from having feelings of shame to having a greater understanding. Equity is everything. “I didn’t have the tools to figure it out on my own,” Viola admitted.
Davis graduated from Rhode Island College in 1988, with a degree in Theater. At the time she could only afford to submit one application for graduate school. She went for the best and applied to Julliard. She was accepted and poured her heart and soul into her love for theater and acting. One of the quotes that stuck with Viola is, “All courage is, is fear said with prayers.” – Anne Lamott
Learning at the age of nine (9) that immersing herself completely in her roles was liberating, Viola gave her all when performing. The roles became a source of healing. She realized that her art had the ability to heal her. All the things she couldn’t freely express in her own life, she could pour into her characters and lend such riveting performances.
Viola Davis is a warrior. She reminds us very simply, “You either survive or you don’t.” Her first Broadway performance after graduating from Julliard was in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. Her career has only soared since.
The most touching part of the discussion was hearing how her husband came into her life. She had a friend tell her to pray very specifically for the type of man that she wanted. She did just that and her prayers were answered. She too spoke about the adoption of her daughter Genesis and the joys of motherhood.
“I’m living for my peace and my joy. I want to be happy in my life, and I know happiness is a journey, it’s not a destination!”
We will definitely be reading Finding Me from cover to cover. If you haven’t already, watch the special on Netflix, it is guaranteed to make you stop and take a look at your own journey and be grateful for your continued growth.